The study “Christian Marriage in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.),” prepared by the Office of Theology and Worship of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, is a faithful effort to fulfill the General Assembly’s call for “serious study and discernment.” The study, which is available here, is necessarily limited in its focus and draws on a short list of resources for congregational study. For its structure and content, it gives particular emphasis to the marriage liturgy in the Book of Common Worship, which was published in 1993. This document, in contrast to similar books in other traditions, does not have confessional or theological authority. Like a hymnal or seasonal liturgy prepared by denominational staff, its use is voluntary and, while frequently helpful, was never intended as the definitive statement of what Presbyterians believe.
The Covenant Network is hearing that many congregations would like a study that goes a step further, challenging groups of faithful Presbyterians to consider a wider variety of perspectives on interpreting the scriptural and confessional tradition of the church around marriage. In particular, we believe many churches would like to have conversations more directly engaging the General Assembly discussion concerning same-gender marriage that gave rise to the study in the first place.
To put it another way: Let’s explore openly what embodies the essence of marriage in scripture and the confessions, asking clearly and honestly how same-gender marriage—the presenting issue in today’s church and society—may (or may not) express the truth of God. Let us draw on theological reflection, both traditional and contemporary, that is open to the possibility that our understanding of marriage (like all our theology) might be “Reformed and always being Reformed.” Let us ask questions that directly confront the issues before it.
These supplemental questions and suggestions for study are an initial attempt to do that. Seeking to aid congregations who are using the official study, we have compiled a handful of additional discussion starters and resources that may be useful for groups seeking broader perspective than the study provides. Though this work was done necessarily quickly, we have also consulted with theologians, teaching elders, and Christian educators. We hope it is a blessing to faithful discerners of all theological stripes and to the whole church. Download the resource here.
We invite those who wish to continue this study to join us for our national Covenant Conference, with the theme “Marriage Matters” at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, October 31 to November 2, 2013. Finally, we invite congregations and individuals who find this study useful to consider making a financial gift to our organization. Your support makes this work possible, and we appreciate it!
Brian Ellison, Executive Director Tricia Dykers Koenig, National Organizer